'Peephole driving' endangers wintertime motorists

You know the routine. You head out to work on a bitterly cold winter morning, trudge through the snow and find every window on your car glazed over in ice. You're short on time, so you clear a spot just large enough to peek out and figure the rest will defrost while you're driving.

In today’s on-the-go society, not fully clearing the windshield is a growing concern -- a concern that has consequences for your auto insurance. It's become so prevalent that the phenomenon has its own name: "peephole driving." More jurisdictions are clamping down on peephole driving, as being unable to see clearly boosts the potential for auto accidents and auto insurance claims.

Driving blind

auto insurance peephole driving

Bill Van Tassel, manager of driving training programs for AAA, says peephole driving is a common roadway problem these days. Failure to completely clear the front windshield, the back window or side windows can create significant blind spots.

“You may be a great decision-maker or great at maneuvering your vehicle, but if you can’t see, you’ve lost right there. People are in a rush, and they underestimate the dangers of not fully clearing their windows,” Van Tassel says.

Ben Cascio, an attorney from Denham Springs, La., who lived in North Dakota for several years, says peephole driving is pretty much a fact of life for drivers in harsh winter environments. The lower the temperatures drop and the more drivers are in a rush, the more people drive around with little more than tiny holes cleared in their windshields.

"You might just clear a 6-inch space and think you can at least see the road, but you really can't see anything," Cascio says.

In Plaistow, N.H., police Sgt. Pat Caggiano says that when snowstorms hit or when temperatures fall for an extended period, instances of peephole driving rise dramatically.

"The last thing someone wants to do is stand out there scraping ice off their windshield, but it beats standing on side the road after you've been involved in an accident," Caggiano says.

Police, lawmakers taking notice

All around the country, police are taking a closer look at the issue. Sgt. Chris Depue of the Lee's Summit Police Department in Missouri says police officers there have been warning more drivers of the dangers of peephole driving. Many of the crashes they’ve worked have involved failure to yield when making a turn or a lane change, he says.

“In addition to cleaning that windshield, you need that left and right vision for a lot of the maneuvers you are making in traffic. If you are in an accident and it was a contributing factor, there could be an extra charge (against you),” Depue says.

auto insurance peephole driver

While officers in Lee’s Summit are not particularly targeting peephole drivers, they are more likely to cite drivers whose views are too obstructed. There, a city ordinance states that no one can drive with any non-transparent material (such as ice and snow) on the front windshield or windows. Ice also can present a serious problem if it becomes dislodged while your vehicle is moving, Depue says.

“You can do a lot of damage when you combine the speed and the mass. A three-pound chunk of ice could become deadly at 60 miles per hour,” Depue says.

More states and counties are following suit. New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine recently signed a law requiring drivers to make all reasonable efforts to remove ice and snow from the windshield, windows, roof and trunk. Drivers who are busted can face up to a $75 fine. And in Yakima, Wash., failing to scrape enough ice off your windshield can get you a $124 ticket. Moving violations also can make your auto insurance premiums rise.

Back in New Hampshire, Caggiano says drivers could face a negligent driving charge if ice flies off a window or failure to clear a window leads to an accident. That charge is $250 to $500 for a first offense and up to $1,000 for a second offense. The law was enacted in 2002 when a local woman was killed in a 1999 accident after a chunk of ice flew off a tractor-trailer and hit her car.

"I think it has always been a problem, but certain issues have brought it more to the forefront. It's just a safety issue," Caggiano says. "(Winter driving) is already dangerous enough. Use common sense and clear your windows."

So, how do you prevent being one of those peephole people?

  1. Start your engine, turn up the heat and turn on the defroster in your vehicle.
  2. While the engine is running, step out and spray a de-icing solution (half water, half vinegar) on your windshield.
  3. Use an ice scraper, preferably one with a long handle to get some leverage, and scrape ice from the windows using short downward motions.
  4. Continue to clean all windows on the vehicle and remove ice or snow from the hood, trunk, roof and bumpers.

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